Paul George carrying Indiana Pacers Right Now

paul-george-pacersLast season was a rough one for the Indiana Pacers, as they finished 38-44 and missed the playoffs, bringing an end to four straight postseason appearances. But this was understandable given that Indiana was missing one key piece: Paul George.

The smooth, 6’9″ forward missed almost all of the 2014-15 season with a lower-right leg injury, and many wondered if he’d be the same this year. Well, we’re only 9 games into the 2015-16 NBA season, but George definitely looks to be his old self since he’s singlehandedly keeping the Pacers in the Eastern Conference race.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in a recent game against the Boston Celtics, which George took over in the second half. He scored several times early in the third quarter to help Indiana take the lead. Then, with the game on the line, George used his size to shoot over 6’4″ Marcus Smart, who’s one of the league’s best on-the-ball-defenders. The end result was a 102-91 victory for Indiana in what was a pretty close game until midway through the fourth quarter.

“It’s my job to go out there and perform,” said George, who scored 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. “I take a lot of pride in being our leader. I take pride in the outcome of games. I’m going to bring it, night in and night out. I’m going to be the guy that’s always going to bring it.”

Indiana is very much a team in transition, as they got rid of 7’2″ center Roy Hibbert and locker-room-leader David West over the offseason. They also signed Monta Ellis and spaced out their offense to allow their smaller lineup more driving opportunities. And it’s pretty clear that having a special player like George makes this transition much easier to make.

paul-george-pacers“We believe we’re putting him in position to have the best season of his career,” said Indiana head coach Frank Vogel. “Playing with a little more space, a little more tempo, we think offensively is going to help him explode onto the scene and take his game to an even higher level, while still having the flexibility to play with bigger lineups when we need to.”

The numbers say everything so far, with George averaging 23.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG and 4.7 APG – all of which would be career highs if he keeps this up. And what’s interesting is that the 25-year-old still thinks he has some room to grow this season.

“My skillset, everything on the court has been there,” George explained. “I feel like with a year away from the game I was able to rehab and really focus on myself. I’m still trying to gain that little bit back physically. I’m not all the way there. Leg endurance, the foot speed, the explosiveness. That’s the little bit that has to come back.”

Despite George’s excellent season and Indiana’s relevance in the East so far, there is still work to be done. Right now their spread offense only amounts to 95.3 PPG, which ranks 27th in the league. And while much of this can be attributed to the fact that the Pacers’ identity is that of a half-court defensive team, George knows that improvement must be made.

“Still trying to figure this thing out,” he said. “Still trying to figure out floor spacing. Where I can get shots, where I can get aggressive, where I can be a playmaker. There’s still so much to unravel.”

The Pacers haven’t gotten many breaks in their schedule so far, taking on the likes of Toronto, Memphis, Utah, Detroit, Miami and Cleveland in the early going. But Indiana has a chance to shoot up the standings a little since four out of their next seven opponents have losing records. And even when the Pacers play the tougher teams, George gives them a chance to win on any given night.

Where does Paul George Injury leave Indiana Pacers’ 2015 Season

paul-george-injury-team-usaNBA All-Star Paul George officially suffered one of the most gruesome sports injuries of all-time this week (see video at bottom). During a Team USA intrasquad scrimmage at UNLV’s Thomas and Mack Center, George went up to contest a layup by James Harden. During the jump, he stretched out his right leg, which bent perpendicular to his body upon landing on the basket stanchion’s base.

The cringe-worthy injury fractured both George’s tibula and fibula, which will likely leave him out for the entire 2014-15 NBA season. So if you already made a 2014 futures bet on the Indiana Pacers, we feel bad for you, although not as badly as for George.

The 24-year-old was vying for a spot on Team USA as they train for the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Rio de Janeiro. He was basically a lock to make the team, and many expected him to start alongside other stars like Kevin Durant and Harden. Now he’ll not only miss the FIBA World Cup, but also be sidelined until next spring or summer.

If there’s one positive to come out of all this, it’s that George remains upbeat, despite his horrific injury. He tweeted, “Thanks everybody for the love and support. I’ll be ok and be back better than ever!!! Love y’all!!” Pacers Team President Larry Bird also tried to put a positive spin on things, while avoiding any predictions on a return. Here’s a look at Bird’s statement:

paul-george-pacersOur first thoughts are with Paul and his family. It is way too early to speculate on his return as the No. 1 priority for everyone will be his recovery. Our initial discussions with our doctors and the doctors in Las Vegas have us very optimistic. We are hopeful at some point next week Paul will return to Indianapolis to continue his recovery.

There is no question about the impact on our team but our goal is to be as strong-willed and determined as Paul will be in coming back.  Our franchise has had setbacks in its history but has demonstrated the abilities to recover. Paul will provide the example of that off the court and it is up to the rest of us to provide that example on the court. Any discussion regarding the future of our team would be inappropriate at this time. Our focus is solely on Paul and doing whatever we can to help.

Now the question is where this leaves Indiana as they enter the 2014-15 NBA season. This was a squad that raced out to first place in the Eastern Conference over the first half of the year. However, they struggled over much of the second half, barely hanging on to the East’s number one seed with a 56-26 record.

The Pacers had numerous troubles in the first round against an inferior Atlanta Hawks team that used a barrage of three-pointers to take a 3-2 series lead. But Atlanta went cold over the last two games, which helped Indiana move on. They played a lot better in a physical semifinals matchup with the Washington Wizards, eventually winning this series 4-2.

Then came the ballyhooed rematch against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Indiana grabbed a 107-96 victory in Game 1, before losing their last four out of five contests against Miami, including an embarrassing 117-92 loss in Game 6.

After losing Lance Stephenson to Charlotte via free agency this summer, the Pacers were already facing an uphill battle. Now they lose their beat all-around player in George, who averaged 21.7 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 3.5 APG and 1.9 SPG last season. Furthermore, they’ll miss the 13.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG and 4.6 APG that Stephenson contributed in 2013. So where does this leave Indiana moving forward?

Pacers Core and New Additions

roy-hibbertThe cupboard isn’t bare, however, it is far from stocked. They return David West (14 PPG, 6.8 RPG), Roy Hibbert (10.8 PPG, 2.25 BPG) and George Hill (10.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG). These three figure to make up the core of Indiana’s team this season.

Indiana added former Cleveland Cavaliers swingman C.J. Miles this offseason. Miles only played 19.3 minutes a game while coming off the bench for Cleveland. However, he definitely made those minutes count, averaging 9.9 PPG and shooting 39.3% from beyond the arc. He may have a far bigger role with Indiana due to George’s injury.

Damjan Rudez is another interesting addition to the Pacers’ roster. The 6’10” Yugoslavian is mainly an outsider shooter in the same mold of Hedo Turkoglu. Rudez is a weird fit for coach Frank Vogel’s system because he’s not a great defender. But the small forward was a really good player overseas, and he could help make up for George’s missing offense.

rodney-stuckey-indiana-pacersAs many NBA fans are aware of, the Pacers quickly added Rodney Stuckey after losing Stephenson in mid July. Stuckey was once looked at as a future building block for the Detroit Pistons. Unfortunately, he’s never been able to develop a consistent three-point shot, hitting just 28.3% of his shots from beyond the arc. But what Stuckey can do is get to the rim and score, or at least draw a foul. He scored 13.9 PPG last season for Detroit and hit 83.6% of his free throws. So this production will be crucial as he likely steps into a starting shooting guard role for Indiana in 2014.

How does Indiana finish without George?

It’s not a given that Paul George will miss the entire NBA season. And as Bird alluded to, it’s difficult to put a timetable on a return until more is known following surgery. So George could return in time for the playoffs and give Indiana a huge boost. However, if you’re planning on doing some Indiana Pacers betting this season, keep in mind that they’re definitely no postseason lock.

This is a team of good pieces that were centered around George. Now that the 6’8″ swingman is missing, somebody will have to step up just to make Indiana a legitimate playoff team. West is 33, Hibbert can’t stay consistent for long stretches and Hill’s numbers regressed from last year.

Plus there’s the loss of Stephenson, who, beyond his weird playoff antics, was arguably the Pacers second best player. Neither Lance nor George can really be replaced heading into the season. However, with Vogel as coach and some players who know how to win, grabbing the sixth or seventh seed in the Eastern Conference isn’t totally out of the question. Where they go from here largely depends on if George can make it back before the spring.